Coronavirus 'outbreak' wipes out 30 per cent of Surrey's fire cover, says union

By Daniel Gee   |   Head of Content   |
Saturday 1st August 2020 7:19 am
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A firefighter tackles May's heath fire at Thursley Nature Reserve ()

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AN OUTBREAK of coronavirus has left Surrey firefighters struggling to maintain fire cover after their brigade failed to properly implement vital health and safety measures, says the Fire Brigades Union.

The union claims as many as seven fire engines have been unavailable at any one time from the start of the outbreak in July, 30 per cent of the brigade’s full-time fire engines.

It says a Surrey firefighter tested positive for Covid-19 on July 25, after undergoing two days of training exercises, causing 20 more Surrey Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) personnel to be removed from duty for self-isolation.

Responding, SFRS confirmed a number of fire service personnel have had to self-isolate, but denied reports of an outbreak – with only one firefighter having tested positive for Covid-19.

Fire and rescue services are required to plan for major emergencies like pandemics, including the impact they can have on staffing.

But the FBU says Surrey Fire and Rescue Service’s response to Covid-19 has been hampered by 31 per cent cuts to its firefighters and control staff since 2010.

The service removed four fire engines as recently April, and a further three fire engines are due to be removed in October.

Surrey firefighters launched a six-month industrial action campaign against the cuts in December 2019 but paused the action because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The FBU has warned that “a decade of cuts have put the service in an extremely vulnerable position, annihilating any resilience” to an outbreak and that the removal of further fire cover is “reckless and dangerous”.

Joe Weir, FBU regional secretary, said: “Surrey firefighters have shown incredible dedication to their communities during this pandemic, but their brigade hasn’t shown the same dedication to keeping staff safe – and now it’s seriously impacting fire cover.

“Frankly, if Surrey’s fire service was properly staffed, they would be able to safely manage an outbreak like this. But a decade of cuts have put the service in an extremely vulnerable position, annihilating any resilience. Cutting another three fire engines in October would be reckless and dangerous.”

A SFRS spokesman said it followed Test and Trace protocols after one operational firefighter tested positive for Covid-19 on July 25.

They added all of the people identified through Test and Trace have since tested negative for the coronavirus, but continue to self-isolate as per government guidelines.

And the service expects the individuals self-isolating to be back to work from Monday, August 3.

The spokesman said: "Appropriate control measures and operational adjustments have been put in place. We have continued to attend every emergency and ensured enough fire appliances to meet demand.

"We have not been at contingency level or lower during this time. We have continued to achieve our response standard (first fire appliance within 10 minutes, second within 15 minutes)."

SFRS also denied the FBU’s claim that the ’outbreak’ resulted from the reintroduction of safety critical training courses "without proper infection prevention and control measures", and without consulting the union.

The fire service spokesman added: "We have reintroduced safety critical training courses such as breathing apparatus training. The service did consult with the FBU regarding control measures to ensure we were as safe as possible.

"In addition to this, a Health and Safety Representative, who was an FBU member, was seconded to enable this consultation to take place. The decision was made to reopen our training centre after consultation with the FBU."

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